02 Apr 2014

TaxiBot to enter service in 2014


Airplanes burn a lot of jet fuel using engines while taxiing between terminals and runways, adding to polluting emissions and costing airlines money in fuel and maintenance. Airlines are projected to spend almost $7 billion on fuel just for taxiing in 2020. Then add in foreign object damages on the ground, push back operations and projected carbon emission taxes and the total cost may approach $8.7 billion… Just for taxiing operations!

The main goal of TaxiBot is to significantly reduce fuel burn. With TaxiBot in operation in all busy airports, this $8.7 billion expense would drop to $2.9 billion, generating a $5.8 billion annual savings plus cutting CO2 emissions by 20 million tons.

TaxiBot is a tractor that tows the aircraft with its jet engine off from the gate to the runway. After a normal push back of the aircraft controlled by the tractor driver, the command is transferred to the aircraft pilot, who, with an innovative “Pilot-in- Control” concept, manoeuvers the tractor from the cockpit through a transparent system with the aircraft’s normal steering and braking control devices. After disconnection of the TaxiBot, the tractor driver returns back to the gate.

Powered by two hybrid diesel-electric engines, TaxiBot reduces the amount of fuel used in taxi operations by 85 per cent. For example, the average taxiing-time in Frankfurt is 10 to 12 minutes. The net saving generated by using TaxiBot to tow a Boeing 737 to a disconnecting point close to the runway is 35 gallons of jet fuel, which cost more than $100 at today’s prices. For an Airbus A380 superjumbo jet on a 10-minute taxi, TaxiBot will cut 95% of the fuel burn, generating a net saving for each departure of 130 gallons of jet fuel costing nearly $400.

Totally in line with TLD’s Green philosophy, TaxiBot is the perfect combination of the ecological and economic interests of its users. TaxiBot solves the two main problems encountered in dispatch towing applications:
• The liability issue of the pilot versus driver liability during taxiing; this is a key requirement of the application because once passengers are onboard, the pilot is fully responsible for the aircraft.
• Nose landing gear fatigue; in addition to ensuring that the system is under pilot control, there is also a major concern about the stress applied during traction and braking, not only to the nose landing gear but also to the front fuselage.

The TaxiBot is designed so that the aircraft’s nose wheel connects to a rotary turret on the tractor. This interface allows the pilot to control the aircraft using the cockpit steering systems just as he would if the aircraft was moving with its own engine power. Sophisticated sensors combined with velocity control algorithms and GPS enable the pilot to maneuver the aircraft easily. Thanks to Taxibot’s rotating turret and force control system, very low loads are applied to the nose landing gear. Braking is achieved by the aircraft itself with all kinetic energy being absorbed by the airplane braking system, and not by the tractor, which simply adjusts its speed.

The two models of TaxiBot – one for single-aisle aircraft under final certification tests, and one for wide-bodies – are suitable for all Airbus and Boeing aircraft with no or very minor modification. A major advantage is that TaxiBot, being a completely separate vehicle, does not bring extra weight to the airplane and no reduction in the cargo bay space. There are no motors or equipment to install on-board that add weight and increase fuel burn during flights. In terms of speed, TaxiBot is able to tow an aircraft at maximum take-off weight at 23 knots, equal to the normal taxiing speed.

Taxibot have been granted the Award of the Innovation of the Year 2013 by the France Ministry of Industry.

Lufthansa Technik’s subsidiary LEOS has been testing the Narrow Body TaxiBot since June 2013 at Frankfurt International Airport at night. All No Technical Objection (NTO) tests and the certification tests on the B-737 and A-320 have been performed. The final certification on these aircraft is expected in 2014.

LEOS, which has also been involved in early field tests of the concept, is looking at launching actual airline operations with Taxibot in 2014, initially with three tractors.
Luthansa Pilots reports were very positive during their first runs with the Taxibot in Frankfurt –
Pilot Rupert Mayer wrote: “TaxiBot will definitely save energy and our environment in the future. Regarding these aspects, it is important to continue the development. “Hats off to the team, this is a lot of high performance “brainstorming” and engineering knowledge!”

The Wide Body TaxiBot prototype dedicated for wide body aircraft, including the A380, is nearing its completion in March 2014. This machine is the most powerful piece of equipment ever built for a GSE application with more than 1500hp and it will tow a fully loaded A380 (560 tons)
up to 20 knots!

The architecture of the Wide Body tractor is similar to the Narrow Body with a full redundancy on major functionalities (2 engine packs, 6 wheels modules, secured software system, etc…), and a big cradle system designed to sustain the weight and the forces induced by jumbo Aircraft. With a 13m length, 4.5m width and 50 ton weight, the Wide Body TaxiBot is a unique machine.

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